Following a suggestion by one of the Italian cardinals, Pope Francis canonized Bl. Angela of Foligno today. By decree. As of, she’s been an official saint in the calendar of the Church for hours and hours already!
SAINT Angela of Foligno was married with kids, and a Third Order Franciscan. She was also a mystic and an advocate of women’s education. She wrote The Book of Divine Consolation, among other books and letters, and has been called “the Mistress of Theologians” for her theological teaching. She dictated her books to her spiritual director, who spent a lot of effort on making sure they were truly her words and ideas.
She was born in 1248. She was from a prominent family, but her father died young and her mother raised her haphazardly. (She didn’t learn to read, as many Italian women did.) She was married and started having kids at the not-super-young age of 20, but she didn’t really feel loved by her husband. He was apparently not a nice guy. In revenge, she got drunk on the increased freedom of being away from her parents’ house as a matron, and started leading an extravagant medieval party girl lifestyle.
Then she started to think about her life, but she was so embarrassed by her sins that she couldn’t bring herself to actually confess them. So she asked St. Francis for help finding a good confessor. And later that night, in the year 1285, at the age of 37, she had a vision of the saint. He told her that if she’d asked him sooner, she’d have been granted one sooner!
And the next morning she did find a good confessor, who luckily had the special powers from the bishop to forgive even the Really Big Sins. (Which leads one to wonder just what she’d been up to, poor lady.) She didn’t get any of that “wiped clean” feeling of consolation, though; she says she felt nothing but “bitterness, shame, and pain.” But she got the job done anyway, which is an example of toughing it out, and she made it through her penance, even though she felt so sad. But after a lot of reparation for her sins, she started to feel love and joy for God, and had more visions and guidance from God. Things do get better.
But then there was another twist of fate. Her husband — and her mother — and every single one of her children — all died within a short time. She responded by selling everything both families had owned. She lived as a hermit with only one companion, in a house near the local Franciscan parish. She became a Third Order Franciscan under the guidance of her spiritual director, and her holiness drew many other local people into the Third Order also.
But she actually met her spiritual director at the worst possible moment! She was visiting Assisi’s basilica of St. Francis on pilgrimage, and had a vision of great consolation. Then Jesus withdrew His Presence just when things were getting good, and poor St. Angela started shrieking with sorrow for losing Him. Right at this moment, her spiritual director-to-be came up and told her to shut the heck up and not come back ever again, if she was going to screech like that in front of church! But he apparently was interested to find out what the heck was going on with her, so he actually met up with her a few days later. She was a lot calmer (obviously) and impressed him with her holiness. And so their partnership began.
Eventually she founded a live-in Third Order community of women. Unusually for the time, they didn’t take a vow of enclosure like nuns because they wanted to be able to do good works in the community, and particularly to care for the poor. Her community of women became her new children. But she didn’t live with them; she stayed a hermit with her one companion.
She died in 1309. There have been miracles at her tomb ever since she was first buried.
Her feast day has been January 7, in the US. I don’t know what it will be now.
Pope Benedict XVI’s audience talk on Angela of Foligno.
“The Mystical Journey of Angela of Foligno” – an essay about the steps of her mystical union with God. (This was before St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, but they probably all drew on St. John Climakos’ imagery of a ladder to God.)
Archive.org has The Book of Divine Consolation by St. Angela of Foligno; translated by Mary G. Steegmann. So does Google Books. Also available as a public domain audiobook from Librivox, and in video-ish format through YouTube. This version was not translated from the Latin of Br. Arnaldo, but from the first Italian translation (1510) which was one of the earliest vernacular printed books in Italy (and very popular too).